Industrial agriculture, monocultures and genetic engineering are not limited to crops. Forest tree species are already grown in large scale plantations by lumber and paper producers, and are increasingly being considered as feedstock for biofuel production. Now, industry is genetically engineering these same trees to grow faster, tolerate colder climates, and produce wood that breaks down more easily for processing. They claim these qualities will increase the profitability and range of tree plantations.
However, trees are complex organisms that play a central role in native ecosystems’ health and vitality, and comprehensive risk assessments are needed to understand possible impacts of genetically engineering trees. The potential environmental risks are significant, far-reaching and irreparable.
GE Trees & the Environment
Experimental transgenes and potentially invasive GE trees could contaminate forest ecosystems. Unlike some field crops, GE trees will be in close contact with wild relatives, increasing the probability of contaminating not just conventional tree plantations, but wild forest populations, as well. Once these new, foreign genes escape, they can endure for the entire lifespan of a tree and be passed on to future generations. As with invasive species, such escapes and colonization could have negative and irreversible impacts on native plants, birds and animals. Further, as with food crops, GE tree plantations will further engrain the dominant industrial, unsustainable paradigm, competing with native ecosystems for land and water.
Regulation of GE Trees
The U.S. regulatory system for GE trees is the same system that is applied to GE crops. GE trees raise some of the same concerns GE crops, but also others. The implementation of government oversight and protection must be substantially improved for all genetically engineered organisms. GE forest tree cultivation is currently limited to confidential experimental field trial sites. However, companies are also currently requesting and pressuring USDA for commercial approval.
Center for Food Safety works to hold regulators and developers of GE trees accountable,and ensure that there is responsible oversight of these novel organisms. This includes taking USDA to court in 2010 over the approval of field trials for GE “cold-tolerant” Eucalyptus. In the effort to protect our forests, CFS continues to push for comprehensive risk assessments, regulation and oversight of GE trees that adequately address their substantial risks.